Want to delete a negative review that’s dragging your Google star rating down?
Wouldn’t it be great if we told you it was as easy as selecting the offending review and pressing the delete key?
If it was that easy, Google Reviews wouldn’t be all that reliable, now would they?
In reality, there are only two legitimate ways to deal with negative reviews.
- Flag them for removal by Google’s team
- Respond to them
This article covers when and why you might want to flag a negative review for removal and, if that doesn’t apply, how to artfully respond to negative reviews and protect your online reputation.
First, let’s take a brief moment to go over why it’s so important to respond to negative reviews.
More Positive Reviews = Higher Search Visibility
Businesses that have lots of positive reviews get a boost from Google for being so interactive with their customers. That level of interactivity makes Google more confident that it’s pushing the right businesses to the top of the heap. (Learn more about the basics of SEO here.)
Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. If your star rating is lower, or you have fewer reviews than your competitors, you’re going to rank lower on the search engine as well. (The same applies to Google Maps, but location is a bigger factor than it is in search.) That’s why it’s important to carefully monitor your reviews — both positive and negative — and respond to them.
Here are some numbers that ought to drive the point home:
93% of consumers say that online reviews influenced their purchase decisions.
63% of consumers use Google as their go-to review site.
Customers are likely to spend 31% more on a business with excellent reviews.
92% of consumers will use a local business if it has at least a four-star rating.
As of October 2021, Google Maps now gives you the ability to filter businesses by star rating, which is going to be a game-changer for some local businesses.
Alright, you’re probably convinced by now of the necessity of dealing with those pesky negative reviews. Here’s what to do.
When To Flag a Google Review for Removal
First, ask yourself if the review is legitimate.
Does it sound fishy, like it wasn’t written by a real customer? Does it seem like it came from someone from the company who left on bad terms? Is the review even relevant to the business? Is the review even of your business? Is the language in the review threatening, offensive, or inappropriate (sexually explicit)?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you can flag it for removal on the grounds that the review violates Google’s policies.
Let’s take a look at the four types of reviews Google will happily (albeit slowly) remove for you.
Fake or Irrelevant
Google wants its reviews to be accurate and authentic, and will remove reviews that appear to be fake or not relevant to the business in question. If you suspect the reviewer never patronized your business or rants about things that have nothing to do with your business in the review, you can request removal.
There’s a growing black market for fake reviews, both positive and negative, and this is a problem for the integrity of Google’s star rating system, which they are taking pains to correct.
One scam, according to an investigative report by a Canadian news outlet, involves the scammer flooding local businesses with negative reviews, seriously hurting their star rating, and then reaching out with offers to “fix” the problem.
If you notice a suspicious pattern or volume of negative reviews that just doesn’t add up — for example, a bunch of negative reviews at midnight on a Saturday — go ahead and flag the reviews and share your suspicions with Google’s team by emailing them.
You can also flag a review that was left for the wrong business (remember when a Trump staffer mistakenly booked a press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping instead of the Four Seasons in downtown Philadelphia?), or the wrong location.
Conflict of Interest
It’s trivially easy for a competitor or a disgruntled employee to post a negative review of your business. The person doesn’t even have to use their real name. All they need is a Google account.
If you suspect the negative review comes from someone you had a close relationship with, or someone associated with a business you directly compete with, you can flag it for removal.
If the person used an anonymous Google account to post the negative review, but has another Google account that reveals their true identity, Google should be able to put two and two together.
The same applies for multiple negative reviews coming from the same person using different accounts. Google has built-in mechanisms for weeding these out, but it doesn’t hurt to flag them.
A person who leaves negative reviews of multiple businesses in the same industry and region and then leaves a glowing review of just one business could be a red flag for Google that these are competitor reviews. You can do a bit of your own sleuthing by clicking on the reviewer’s Google profile to see what else they’ve reviewed.
Offensive or sexually explicit
If a review contains profanity or uses threatening or derogatory language, you’re within your rights to flag it. Google does not tolerate content that incites hatred or discriminates against specific groups or individuals, as well as sexually explicit content.
How to Flag Google Reviews for Removal
To flag a review for removal, first log in to your Google My Business account. You can find it by googling your business or locating it in Google Maps. When you’re logged in you’ll see a blue check mark and a label that says “You manage this Business Profile” in your GMB panel.
Next, click the Reviews button, then find the review you want to flag. To the right of the review there is a 3-dot menu. Click the 3 dots and select Report Review.
Then choose a category from the ones below.
Speeding Up the Process
It takes a while for Google to take down negative reviews, truth be told. You can try to speed up the process by contacting Google support and requesting a callback or an email follow up.
In the meantime, it makes sense to respond to the negative review.
How to Respond to Negative Google Reviews
The most effective way to deal with a negative review you can’t get rid of is to respond to it.
It sounds crazy, but a recent Harris Survey found that 34% of customers who leave a negative review will remove it if the company responds to the issue, and around 33% will then replace it with a positive review.
If you think about it, the psychology is common sense. Most people who leave negative reviews are just seeking a little recognition. They may be going off inaccurate information. They may have been having a bad day when they wrote the review and have since lightened up. Someone at your company may have screwed up. Mistakes happen. If you respond like a human being, you’ll be treated like one in turn. Most people don’t want to hurt your business.
The key is responding quickly. You want to acknowledge the complaints but push back against any inaccuracies, spell out a plan for dealing with the issue, and invite further dialogue.
Let’s unpack that last sentence.
Respond quickly and courteously
It’s important to respond right away so the customer feels heard. Courtesy is especially important when the customer is clearly wrong. Instead of “the customer is always right”, think, “the customer always has a right to complain.”
Other customers are watching the way you respond to criticism. If you ignore negative reviews or denigrate the reviewer in your response, that sets a bad precedent and can cause negative reviews to snowball.
On the other hand, if you take criticism in stride, show empathy for the customer’s experience, and work to offer an amicable solution, that reflects well on the company and can lead to a virtuous cycle of positive reviews.
Address the complaints and correct any inaccuracies
Acknowledge what the reviewer is saying, even though you may disagree with it. If you’re defensive right out of the gate, it’s not going to look good.
On the other hand, if the reviewer is making assumptions based on inaccurate information, feel free to correct them in your response.
Spell out a plan for dealing with the issue
This shows you’re taking the complaint seriously. If you’ve already dealt with the issue by, say, refunding the customer, be sure to state that.
Invite further dialogue
It’s all too easy for a customer to fire off a vengeful negative review based on bad assumptions or without having first tried to resolve the problem. Often you can resolve a customer’s issue offline. In the meantime, respond the negative review without getting into detail, and encourage the person to get in touch with you.
After you’ve resolved the issue, it doesn’t hurt to circle back and ask the customer to take down the negative review, if they haven’t already.
You don’t need to hit all these notes every time you respond to a negative review. The important thing is to come across as a human being and not a faceless corporation.
Bottom line: Your first line of defense against negative Google reviews is to look for policy violations. If the review is legitimate, the best way to deal with it is to respond to it quickly and courteously. A business owner who extends common courtesy to an angry customer and tries to make things right is a sympathetic business owner. That’s going to prevent negative reviews from snowballing, and can actually turn things back in a positive direction.
Hope this information helps and happy to assist if anyone needs help managing their Google reviews!